Hidden Jams: Clara Engel

In the Bandcamp/Soundcloud era, there’s a lot of crap floating around the internet — but there’s also a wealth of excellent music most people will never hear. With “Hidden Jams,” we put a spotlight on those great albums.

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One of the coolest perks of rock journalism (besides the incredible pay — just kidding) is that you’re constantly immersed in (and bombarded with) music. Besides the countless albums that are e-mailed and Fed-Ex’d to me every work day, I’m also pelted by submissions from musicians themselves, touting their new Garageband-recorded EP or 4-track concept album. Needless to say, a lot of it is pure shit, and with my ridiculous work hours (one of the downsides to rock journalism), I don’t listen to nearly as much of the good stuff as I crave. But every once in awhile, when the stars align, I’m smacked in the face by something pretty interesting.

Last night, I received an e-mail from Clara Engel, a Toronto-based singer-songwriter who released a fairly stunning EP, The Lovebird’s Throat, last year. I clicked on her Bandcamp page almost out of a dejected reflex, but I was immediately captivated by what I heard.

Engel’s sound is minimal and brooding — built on simple, glistening guitar mantras, the occasional droning keyboard or tom-tom flourish, and (most prominently) her haunted, booming alto, which skirts delicately across these skeletal sonic frameworks. There are four tracks on the EP, but they’re all variations of the same general idea. Engel’s voice, in its raw sensuality, echoes that of art-rock sorceress Kate Bush, while the music casts a gothic spell not unlike something in a David Lynch soundtrack. Every second is captivating, but my favorite tracks are the final two: “Married to the Bone” is a creeping blues vamp, with Engel’s voice wandering gracefully over tremolo and slave-chain percussion. “Lovebirds” marries evocative imagery (“Every time I cut off your head, you grow another”) with a tortured nursery-rhyme melody.

Check out a two-track stream below. If you like what you hear, head over to her Bandcamp page and buy the whole EP.

Below is a video of a live performance from earlier this year.

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